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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Florida 'Google Mistrial' Captures NY Times and National Attention in Legal Community

Was there not a scene in '12 Angry Men' where a juror retrieves a knife out of his pocket and says that 'look this resembles the murder weapon, and it is a common pocket knife anyone can carry with him at any time; it does not make you a murderer?' Well, yes, there is that scene involving Juror number 8. You know, there is so much you can say about this film, shot in one room, all black and white, names not used, almost worth going back and watching again and again just as a refresher.

But what if the juror to prove his point could have googled the knife in question? What if? Well, it could not have happened in 1957 but it is sure happening in 2009. Forget the juror who brought a dictionary to a trial in the Salesman case last week in Broward causing a mistrial. How many times do you think jurors in the past year might have taken their I Phones and googled up a confusing word directed to them by a judge?

Last week, a juror in a big federal drug trial in the Southern District admitted to the judge that he had been doing research on the case on the Internet, directly violating the judge’s instructions and centuries of legal rules. But when the judge questioned the rest of the jury, he got an even bigger shock, the NY Times reports. Eight other jurors had been doing the same thing. The federal judge, William J. Zloch, had no choice but to declare a mistrial, a waste of eight weeks of work by federal prosecutors and defense lawyers.

“We were stunned,” said a defense lawyer, Peter Raben, who was told by the jury that he had been on the verge of winning the case. “It’s the first time modern technology struck us in that fashion, and it hit us right over the head."

And the NY Times has the story today. It is being called the Google mistrial. It is the future and it has jumped upon us. What was it the comic strip character Pogo said: 'We have met the future and it is us?'

The Internet is a good thing. But jurors have to be free of taint. And now there may have to be a new rules committee which addresses just how much access jurors can have during a trial. Boilerplate instructions no longer suffice. The technological landscape has changed, and so too must we with it. It's a brave new world. I am happy to be here and be part of it. Newspapers may be dying but the information age is not.

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